Saturday, April 28, 2012


Once out of the pit


Norm Geras is in his best Obi Wan shape as he easily pokes an effective saber at Antony Lerman's  article in which the latter discusses "whether or not Günter Grass's recent poem, 'What must be said', was an instance of anti-Semitism."

With his usual acuteness, Norm hits the nail right on its head when he identifies the gaping hole in 

 Lerman's argument:

" He doesn't neglect to refer to that element in the poem which is most problematic in the context of his central question: Grass's suggestion that Israel claims the right to a first strike that could snuff out - or destroy - the Iranian people. But, then, at no point in what follows does Lerman relate this element to the issue which his piece purports to be about."

Lerman's polemical sleight of hand reminds me of a story I once read about a nineteenth century British rag that used to publish sensational novels in weekly serialized instalments. The story was written from one week to the next and only the author knew how he was going to resolve the knotty problems that he himself had set up in the week before.


On one such occasion, the author ended his weekly chapter with a breath-stopping situation, his protagonist hanging with both hands from the rim of a pit, snakes snapping at his feet, on one side of him a roaring lion, on the other - two crooks with their guns trained on him.

Then he failed to submit the next week's chapter. As he was a known lush, everyone suspected that he had gone on one of his drinking binges. The editor asked other writers to provide the necessary installment but they were all stymied. They had no idea how to get the hero out of the pit, and away from the menacing snakes, roaring lion and would-be killers. The paper was issued with an apology to the readers for missing that week’s episode.

Finally the author showed up. Everyone pounced on him, yelling and angry and predictably, demanding to know how he was going to resolve the situation.

No big deal, shrugged the author. He inserted a sheet of paper into the typewriter and started the next chapter:

"Once out of the pit, our hero ..."

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